Oil rig grounding shows urgent need for an emergency tug in the Western Isles

The Anglian Prince docked at Ullapool in 2008. The tug served the Minch and beyond from its base in Stornoway until it was axed in 2012. Photo: Anglian Prince by Mike Dunn. CC BY-SA 2.0.
The Anglian Prince docked at Ullapool in 2008. The tug served the Minch and beyond from its base in Stornoway until it was axed in 2012.

Photo: Anglian Prince by Mike Dunn. CC BY-SA 2.0.

John has written to the UK’s new Transport Secretary to repeat his call for the return of an emergency tug to the Western Isles, a need highlighted by the grounding of the Transocean Winner oil rig on Lewis.

The tug Anglian Prince was based at Stornoway until it was axed as part of Westminster cuts in 2012, leaving the Orkney-based Herakles as the only Emergency Towing Vessel covering Scotland’s northern waters.

John said:

“I am grateful that there were no personnel on board the Transocean Winner when it ran aground, and that therefore no-one was hurt. I also want to send my thanks to the Stornoway Coastguard and other responders, who have handled this disaster in tough weather conditions and while also responding to multiple other distress calls.

“However, we cannot yet know what the environmental damage may be, and there can be no guarantee that the next incident will pass without injuries or worse.

“This incident, along with the many others in recent years, demonstrates the urgent need for an emergency tug based in the Western Isles.

“The major inquiry held after the 1993 Braer disaster recommended as a priority that northwestern Scotland be provided with a strong emergency tug, and our seas have only got busier in the intervening three decades.

“Despite this, Westminster cuts abolished the Western Isles tug in 2012, leaving only the Orkney-based Herakles, which could take many hours to reach a vessel in distress in the Minch.

“We are a maritime nation and as such it is government’s responsibility to ensure that our seas and our coast are adequately protected. I’m repeating my call to the UK Government: reinstate the Western Isles tug, before Scotland has to pay the price.

“In the longer term, it’s clear that Scotland itself has to take responsibility for safety in Scottish waters. Our seas are being poorly served by a Westminster government for whom the far north of Scotland might as well be the far end of the world.”

Click here to read John’s letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP (PDF).

Long wait for Ministers’ answer on shipping rules to protect Scapa Flow

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsJohn Finnie is pressing the Environment Minister for answers on the long-overdue review of ballast water management rules designed to protect Scapa Flow from ecological damage.

Neither Aileen McLeod nor her predecessor as Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse, have made any announcement on the review since Mr Wheelhouse told the Scottish Parliament it was underway almost a year and a half ago.

John said:

“The environment of Scapa Flow and Orkney’s shipping industry are both of huge importance, not only to the Islands but to Scotland as a whole. They can’t be treated as an afterthought or put on the back burner.

“I’m perplexed as to how the Scottish Government review of the ballast water management policy could have taken almost a year and a half, with no updates or explanations along the way.

“Meanwhile, Orcadians are left wondering whether the Minister will ever get round to it.

“I hope the Minister will respond with a clear answer on when the review will be published, so that the many people that rely on a healthy ecosystem and a well-run port at Scapa Flow can stop wondering what’s going on.”

The dumping of ships’ ballast water in sensitive habitats like Scapa Flow is strictly controlled because it can release industrial pollutants from ships, and invasive plant and animal species from their previous destinations, into the local ecosystem.

Under the EU Habitats Directive, the Scottish Government is required to oversee these rules, as Mr Wheelhouse confirmed when he told Holyrood that his officials had begun a review of new ballast water rules proposed by Orkney Islands Council.

In a written answer on 16 July 2014, Mr Wheelhouse said:

“Orkney Islands Council approved a revised Ballast Water Management Policy for Scapa Flow on 10 December 2013. Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and stakeholders have expressed concerns about the proposals and the need to ensure compliance with European legal requirements. In view of these concerns and Scottish Ministers’ statutory responsibilities, my officials have been reviewing the council’s appropriate assessment to determine whether we are satisfied that the proposals are compliant and, if not, whether or not there is a need to use statutory powers available to ministers in the regulations implementing the EU Habitats Directive.”

In the seventeen months since, no Scottish Government minister has said anything further about the review. Now John has lodged a formal Parliamentary Question to press Ms Campbell to update MSPs and commit to a publication date:

Question S4W-29897: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/02/2016
To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4W-21880 by Paul Wheelhouse on 16 July 2014, what the conclusions are of its review and whether it plans to publish them.

According to the Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Ms McLeod is expected to reply by Thursday 9 March 2016.